The crisp, thin crusts of French, Italian, and Vienna breads and of hard rolls are achieved by using formulas with little or no sugar and fat and by baking with steam. Because the crust is part of the attraction of these items, they are often made in long, thin shapes that increase the proportion of crust.
These breads are usually baked freestanding, either directly on the hearth or on sheet pans. (Perforated sheet pans are especially useful, as they allow better circulation of hot air around the product.) The water content must be low enough that the units hold their shape in the oven.
In practice, French and Italian bread formulas in North America are widely interchangeable. Some of them have little resemblance to breads in France and Italy, but nevertheless they may be popular and of good quality. The best practice is to follow regional preferences and to produce good-quality products that appeal to your customers.
To create the open-cell structure characteristic of French bread, give the loaves a very full proof before baking.
Two unusual breads are included in this section. Fougasse is a traditional shape from the French countryside. It is made with a basic French bread dough but formed into a large, flat, ladder-shaped loaf and coated with olive oil. Ciabatta (its Italian name refers to its resemblance to a beat-up old slipper) is made with a very slack dough. Because it is so sticky, it is handled as little as possible and simply deposited on sheet pans without being shaped into loaves. This gives it a very light, open texture.